Given the remarkable discipline that has been shown by the SNP in recent years, it is certain that the discussion about whether or not the party should continue its opposition to NATO membership, has been initiated by the party leadership. Under no other circumstances would the fact that National Council was to discuss the policy, have seen the light of day before June. The softening up process of the membership has begun and will continue until the leadership pushes through the change of policy. It is a high risk strategy but the leadership has pushed through every other change of long-held SNP policy positions, banking on party loyalty and the fear that any breaking of the ranks will be exploited by the Unionists. Any suggestion that the SNP no longer stands for independence, is met with the kind of response that greeted the publication of the Economist magazine cover last week, but open support for NATO will certainly cause some party members to question their continued commitment to the party.
Political columnists have had their say on SNP defence policy over several months, as fear that a "Yes" vote in the referendum would mean the removal of Trident from the Clyde, despite hints from Angus Robertson MP, SNP Defence Spokesman, that some kind of deal might be possible. Few if any of those commenting on the SNP's opposition to NATO and nuclear weapons, have displayed any real understanding of the strength of that opposition, because they have very little knowledge of the history of the party, which has been re-written almost on a weekly basis. Southern commentators know absolutely nothing about the party and perceived wisdom in Scotland is that the SNP achieved little or nothing until the appearance of Alex Salmond who is deemed to be the sole architect of the party's current success. This completely ignores the political achievments of the party in the 1970s and also ignores the first ten years of Salmond's term of office, when the SNP did little more than tread water. The poisoned chalice that John Swinney inherited in 2000 after Salmond demitted office, did not appear by accident. Earlier on this blog under the heading, "The SNP Should Stop Playing Games" I suggested there were more than a few in the current leadership of the party, who would be quite happy to settle for less than the restoration of sovereignty and the re-establishment of the Scottish nation/state. I believe that that is now more evident than ever. England's problem is that they have no alternative site for Trident and they will make every threat imagineable, create as much fear of independence as possible, in their efforts to force Scotland to keep Trident where it is. The fear must now be that if the SNP drops its opposition to NATO, it will also drop its opposition to Trident.
If, at any point since the start of Salmond's second term of office, the party leadership had said, "We are not going to be able to achieve independence in the current climate, therefore we are going to have to take whatever we can get along the way, until we can achieve the ultimate goal. This may entail accepting reforms that are a great deal less than we want but we see it as a step in the right direction. We might never achieve independence but we will push to get as much as we can," there would have been a lot less distrust of what the leadership has tried to do. Instead, no matter how how much control was surrendered to the EU, it was still independence. The decision to retain sterling and give the Bank of England control of monetary policy, will still be independence according to the leadership. We have been told we will have a "seat at the top table" in the EU and have a member in the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, so that we could influence decisions. It is now being suggested that our opposition to nuclear weapons will allow us to influence other NATO members when we take our seat at yet another "top table". Have those who peddle this tripe taken leave of their senses or are they just being dishonest, in the hope that the rest of us have taken leave of ours? Others peddle the "gradualist" argument, every surrender of political control is presented as gradualism at work. As I tweeted, after 305 years, how gradual do we want to be?
The SNP opposed membership of NATO because it was a military alliance with a "first strike nuclear policy". The party totally opposed the presence of nuclear weapons on the doorstep of the most heavily populated part of Scotland and more than a few of us were arrested demonstrating against that presence. Scotland's disproportionate war losses go much further back than the First World War. Fontenoy, Ticonderoga, Tel-el-Kebir, Mafeking, Loos, Somme, Ypres, St Valery, Alamein, Tobruk, Crete, Sicily, Normandy, Burma, Hook these and many more can all be found on the battle honours of one Highland Regiment, the Black Watch, and it epitomises the contribution made by Scotland to the almost continuous wars fought by Britain. The SNP were determined that an independent Scotland would never call on its young men and women to make that kind of sacrifice again and it should not be forgotten that Alex Salmond condemned NATO's intervention in Serbia in 1999 because it was done without UN sanction.
Some commentators have already conceded that an independent Scotland could stay outside of NATO like Ireland or Switzerland, neither country being bullied and threatened in the way it is forecast an independent Scotland would be, if it had the temerity to stay outside the Alliance. The threats of course are all supposed to come from England, which would lose its place on the Security Council, or the USA just because it can. Alternatively, Scotland could be a member of NATO without the nuclear presence, like Norway and Denmark but the pressure to retain Trident would be immense if membership of NATO was accepted. Harry Reid in The Herald, argued the Labour Party under Blair, finally ditched Clause Four, without the sky falling in but that ignores the fact that the Labour Party had paid absolutely no atttention to Clause Four for many years before it made the reality official policy. It also ignores the fact that Labour under Blair was no longer Labour and there was little left that was worth voting for by the time he left.
The strategy of the SNP leadership is to sell the idea of an independence which changes little or nothing, from the currency, Bank of England control of the economy, the monarchy, membership of the EU and its continued destruction of fishing and agriculture, open borders, social union and BBC TV - musn't miss East Enders - continued cooperation on defence matters with use of military bases and now membership of NATO. In the months before the referendum, is there much more the SNP can concede, will independence leave Scotland as nothing more than a client state?